Watt vows to unlock Emergency Response Fund for mitigation

The Emergency Response Fund will be remodelled to allow local and state governments to apply for more disaster mitigation funding.

Federal Emergency Management Minister Murray Watt told a Sydney newspaper last weekend that the government was committed to changing the ERF Act to enable more investment in mitigation projects.

“The fact that we’ve got a fourth flood in some [NSW] areas in 18 months shows that we need to come up with longer-term flood mitigation solutions for that region,” he said.

“The former federal government didn’t do enough when it came to disaster mitigation. And that’s something that we are intending to fix.”

Senator Watt said once Labor was able to make the necessary legislative changes to the fund, it would open up applications for states and councils to pitch mitigation projects.

“We want to see that money flowing as quickly as possible.”

“We’ll obviously have to undertake application processes … and assessments of projects,” he said. “But it’s a much bigger investment in disaster mitigation than we’ve ever seen from a federal government.”.

The ERF was set up in 2019 with seed money of $3.98 billion. With interest earned, it has since grown to $4.58 billion.

Under the Act, the federal government can draw down a maximum of $200 million in any given year ($150 million on response and $50 million on resilience projects) beyond what is already available to fund emergency response and natural disaster recovery and preparedness through the National Recovery and Resilience Agency and other Commonwealth channels.

When in Opposition, Senator Watt repeatedly questioned why more ERF funding wasn’t being made available for disaster prevention and resilience.

Before the May federal election, Labor responded to ALGA’s advocacy on disaster mitigation and resilience by committing up to $200 million yearly to a new “Disaster Ready Fund”.